In a time when everything can be art, when history is rendered abstract through endless appropriations and citations – can art resist becoming part of the constant “negation" of life that has invented a visual form for itself? How can abstraction really articulate something that’s happening? When you make a picture of a condition, how can it make sense of that condition?
In order to understand the question, “can art resist becoming part of the constant “negation” of life that has invented a visual form for itself?” we must first understand what the visual form of the “negation” of life is. Guy Debord describes this negation as the spectacle’s “essential character,” meaning that, the negation of the pure essence of life and an open awareness is a negation of actual existence. Our existence is now mediated or predetermined by the culture which consumes us, we now equate visual time with importance, if you see something a lot, it must be important. Dubord states, in his fourth thesis, that the spectacle is “not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” These images, advertisements, art, celebrities, social media influencers all benefit from the amount of times they are seen by you, the consumer. These things in which we are accustomed to see a lot, must be important and we should invest our time/money in them. However, the spectacle is not just the string of global capitalism that has overtaken our existence on this planet, but it is an omnipresent condition under which we live. However, it is still merely a condition and may not have a solution, but may have ways to transform ourselves under the condition.
One of the current methods of dealing with this idea of the spectacle can be found in the Periphery’s push back against the Western norms and traditions. A good example of this is the development of a “New Asia” and Singapore’s rapid development and economic rise in Asia. This push for an “Asia by Asians for Asians” growth however has several flaws. The first being that the very thing that is being denied is still present and influential in the thinking of the creators in that society. You can’t deny something that is an integral part of a whole because then you are denying the very things from which you gained a better understanding of the nature of your being. It would be like if I created a salsa, but denied putting in any peppers even though clearly everyone tasting the salsa tastes peppers. I think this denial of what is present comes from a lack of research into the historical and a misunderstanding of the present.
However, if the spectacle fuels a current of life that globally has become an influential and integral part of our societies and lives, then what is the solution to this problem and how does art play a role in it? Well, I believe that the solution to this problem is that there is no solution and we must shift our thinking away from the current modes of thought. This is because finding a solution still implies that there is a problem in the first place that we can solve. However, if we created the problem through our own manifestations of what solutions were in the past then how can our solutions of the present ever be better than our solutions of the past? They can’t, they are, and always will be a part of the ever changing spectacle that pervades our existence, unless we radically reframe what it means to exist. A reframing of existence will only come through a deeper reflection on the “mystical” aspects of life that abstract artists, such as Jackson Pollock, Louise Bourgeois and Julie Mehretu, just to name a few, detail in their interviews, as well as a deeper meditation on the traditions of the “primitive,” who seemed to have a much larger grasp on the world than we do now.
“With knowledge comes great responsibility” is a Spider-Man quote people love to use, however, I would argue with knowledge comes great ignorance. Then, it is only through an appreciation for our limitations and ignorance that a true, pure understanding of life will present itself. And one of the ways to dig into and understand this ignorance and limitation is through the exploration of the “mystical” or “in-between” space through abstract art. Antoni Tapies describes this space as , “...a ‘suffering’ of reality, a state of constant hypersensitivity to everything which surrounds us, good and bad, light and darkness. It is like a voyage to the center of the universe which furnishes the perspective necessary for placing all the things of life in their real dimension.” Abstract art gives us the tools to bring our subconscious intuitiveness to the surface of our consciousness, therefore allowing us to illustrate concepts, ideologies and conditions that we are unable to define due to the inadequacies of language. Our surroundings impact our personal subconscious experience, which flows into our work, which in turn allows us to more easily unpack the contents of our subconscious, which then allows us to more accurately see into the pure nature of our surroundings, which then benefits the world. Julie Mehretu stated about the abstract nature of her work that, “Before I was interested in how these individual agents would come together and create a whole and effect some kind of change. Now it’s also, how did these bigger events happen by the gathering of all these marks?” Which leads me to wonder is is really the little events that shape the greater condition or is it the greater condition that shapes the smaller events? Or is it through all the little events understanding themselves within the context of the greater condition that allows them to exist more freely and purely.
Therefore, back the original question, can abstraction really articulate something that is happening? I believe yes, abstraction is the key to understanding the very nature of our being. It is through abstraction that we are better able to understand ourselves (or our lack of a self), and in turn allows us to more clearly and accurately observe and participate in the world around us. This observation will lead to a higher, deeper understanding of the nature of life, which eliminates the need for a spectacle. If everyone sees the world through a heightened awareness, images no longer mediate our social relations and our interactions with everything become pure and intentional. Therefore, it will only be through the exploration of abstraction and the subconscious that art will resist becoming a part of the constant negation of life that has invented a visual form for itself.